Last week, we called on Caitriona to give us her go-to study tips and this week, we’ve once again called on our Jambos for some assistance. Joanna, again who is just like you and is sitting secondary school exams, has a few hacks up her sleeve for when exam stress gets a little too much. 

Take it away Joanna… 

Whether you’re on the eve of your leaving cert exams or just preparing for a class test, we’ve all experienced some level of stress before an exam. But it doesn’t have to be an overbearing emotion that haunts us as we count the days to every passing exam. We’ve all heard from our teachers that we should eat healthy foods that include compound carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats and a plethora of fruits and vegetables. We’ve also heard that before a test, we should get a good night’s sleep of at least eight hours, and we should drink plenty of water. These tips can in fact be helpful, but I want to tell you all the tips your teachers cannot tell you because they’re not going through it themselves. Exams don’t have to be as stressful and emotionally exhausting as people expect them to be. 

When I was studying for my Junior Cert and got four distinctions and five Higher Merits, I wasn’t eating healthy or getting enough sleep, but rather living off four hours a day.  Although I don’t recommend the sleeping and dietary habits that I had at the time, there were a couple of things I did do that didn’t need a lot of willpower to complete but helped me to reduce my stress.

Joanna's 7 Hacks To Reduce Exam Stress - study

Number one: Music

I don’t know about you, but listening to music is one of the key components to keep me going in the stressful environment of school day after day. Everyone has their favourite genres and artists, and music can help you feel confident and ready to take on any challenge, or just act as a calming tool to a never-ending storm. 

Create a playlist to listen to just before the exam. Not only is it fun but it takes your mind off studying for a while. Music has the ability to completely change your mood and perspective. I made two playlists, one for before the exam, when I needed some motivation, and one for right after, when I was tired, and felt a sense of accomplishment. Whether you feel good about your attempts at questions in the exam, or a bit more negative, music can give you a pick me up. Overall, reducing exam stress.

Joanna's 7 Hacks To Reduce Exam Stress - listen to music

Number two: Talk about it!

It’s difficult to express your fears and anxiety about upcoming exams and tests, but truth be told, once you start talking about it, the weight of your worries will fall drastically. In our heads, a problem seems overbearing, and the burden falls when you find a bestie or sibling that is willing to just listen. 

Especially when you talk to people who are also going through the exact same thing. You’ll be surprised to find that you’re not the only one feeling an all-consuming level of stress, once you talk to your classmates. Facing the battle of exams becomes much less daunting once you know you’re not alone. ‘Misery loves company’, rings true when it comes to exam stress. This may sound counter-productive to say out loud, “I’m stressed”, but bottling it all up inside and pretending to be positive, will only create more worry. It’s better for you to be honest about your emotions and more specifically, exam stress.

Joanna's 7 Hacks To Reduce Exam Stress - talk about itNumber three: Watch a TV show

Yet again, this probably isn’t the advice you were expecting. Don’t feel like when you have a test coming up that you have to spend every waking moment—studying. At that point, you may end up sounding like a broken record, taking in information, and cramming every chance you get. But taking a break to watch a TV show can help you reduce your stress levels. 

I picked a TV show in particular to watch because A. It’s short. Watching one episode, unlike a movie, won’t eat into your study time. B. Watching other characters struggle with their own problems can help you feel like you’ll be fine, another victim of ‘Misery loves company’. C. watching a TV show will give you something else to focus on, so your brain won’t entirely be overwhelmed with textbook content. 

An episode can also serve as a great motivator to get through a study period e.g. if you’re using the Pomodoro study technique, or if you successfully blurted all the key points for the essay you’ve prepared. Rewarding even the little things you do whilst studying, can help build your confidence in each topic before the exam. Well, it did for me anyway. My favourite show to watch during a study break is Gilmore Girls, and anyone who has watched the show can agree that Rory’s academic life definitely helps a lot of students romanticise studying and exam preparation, which can be a good thing. 

Love This Show Watching Tv GIF by Gogglebox AustraliaNumber four: Break it down

Now, here’s the advice for when you’re actually studying. When you think about all the subjects, you’ll have to write exams on, it seems like a lot. The trick is, to break it down so that you convince yourself that it’s really not that much. I got nine sheets of paper, and on each sheet, wrote all the topics of each of my subjects, and as I studied, crossed out the topics. Not only was it good for me to see the whole picture, and visualise my studying, but it was also extremely satisfying to cross out/highlight the topics I’d already covered. A little bit of delusion and delayed gratification of breaking all your subjects down can really help reduce exam stress, as it helps you keep focusing, organised and not flustered while studying, which makes all the difference. 

Joanna's 7 Hacks To Reduce Exam Stress- break it downNumber five: Practice tests

I’m pretty sure this is a more common tip. But practising exam papers, conducting practice tests of your own, and doing questions under exam conditions, are so important that I can’t stress it enough–pun not intended. The reason is, the more exams you do, the more natural it will feel. When you eventually actually sit the exam, after countless practice tests, you’ll be able to say to yourself I’ve done this before, I can do it again. You’ll know you can survive and make it out on the other side. Also, if you’re able to get 100% on the practice test, you are more than capable of excelling in the real thing. It’s a great source of both reassurance and relieving stress, and well–it’s an actual study technique since active recall is an effective way of revising. 

Joanna's 7 Hacks To Reduce Exam Stress- past exam papersNumber six: Anticipate Exciting things

To contrast the boring and as we’ve already established, stressful nature of exams and tests, I found that making a list of things I’m planning on doing after the exam is over, really helps me keep focused and relieve some of that anxiety. Some of the things that featured in the list I wrote before sitting my Junior Cert exams are going to the Irish photo museum in Dublin city, drinking the sweet taste of boba milk tea, and skateboarding with my friends. Some other things that you might like to include could be anything from watching a new episode of your favourite show, to going for the first swim of the summer,  to going abroad on a holiday. It makes the exam seem like not that much of a burden, because well, life will continue to go on after the exam. It’s not the be-all and end-all. In moments of high-stress levels and cramming from dawn to dusk, it’s nice to remind yourself that this is just a short season in your life, and you’ll be able to do exciting and fun things once it’s all over. Since I didn’t jump straight into fifth year after my Junior Cert, I also had Transition Year to look forward to, which was a relief. 

Happy Lets Go GIF by Shalita GrantNumber seven: Take Advantage of your teachers

This is a much-neglected tip. There are two main things your class teachers can help you with (if they’re happy to) before a test or exam. The first is correcting extra work you did, and the second is to give out some free confidence boosters. At the end of the day, your exam success reflects your teachers’ teaching and they will want to see you do well. Handing in extra work for your teacher to look at is an especially useful tip for people doing essay-based subjects such as English and History. For those subjects, it’s not like Maths where there’s a definitive answer. So, your class teachers are your best bet to gauge if you answered a question correctly. During my Junior Cert, I worked closely with my English and Irish teacher, sending her essays that I wrote in both languages, and she gave me much-needed feedback and advice before I sat the exam. So, I strongly encourage people not to be shy and ask their teachers for help when they need it. At the end of the day, that’s what they’re there for! Teachers can also give you some encouragement, all you need to do is ask, and they’d probably give you their honest opinion. Even if you can’t see all the hard work you’ve been doing in class, teachers tend to notice it. The stress is reduced quite a bit when you have people believing in you.

Whether you’re on the eve of your leaving cert exams or just preparing for a class test, we’ve all experienced some level of stress before an exam


Honestly, the stress you’re feeling is only there because you care. Nerves can be a significant part of the exam preparation process. But let’s face it, stress is triggered by fear. Often the fears boil down to the worry that you’ll blank on the day, revising topics that don’t end up coming up on the exam, running out of time or being late.  Give me five minutes and I’ll be able to come up with many more reasons to be stressed. But look at the facts, all these negative possibilities you have come up with before you enter an exam hall are no more likely to happen than the best-case scenario. All you can do at the end of the day is try as hard as you believe necessary. Once you lay your heart out on the floor, what’s going to stop you from achieving?

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